Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Challah - a beautiful braided bread

Challah is a Jewish braided bread made and eaten on Sabbath and some other Jewish holidays. Most versions I have seen of this bread are sweet, with cinnamon and raisins being popular additions to the dough. Since I made a sweet bread yesterday, I have made a non sweet version of the Challah for my second post for Blogging Marathon #64.

What you need :
All purpose flour - 2 cups
Lukewarm water - 1/2 cup
Instant yeast - 1 tsp
Salt - 1 tsp
Oil - 1/8 cup
Egg - 1

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast, water, oil and egg.
Add the flour to this, a little at a time and knead to a smooth pliable dough. My dough was very sticky and I had to add an additional 3 tbsp. of flour to make it smooth and non sticky.
Transfer the dough to a well oiled bowl and  turn it over a few times so it is coated with oil on all sides. Cover and let it rise until doubled in volume (about an hour).
Punch down the dough and separate it into three portions. Roll each portion into a longish rope (about 15 inches or so). These will form the three parts of the braid.
At this point, you can make a savory stuffing and stuff it into each segment. I made a really tasty tomato, onion and garlic filling. However, for some reason, after I flattened one of the strands and put in some of the filling, I just wasn't able to close the ends together. No matter how hard I tried, the ends just wouldn't stick together. Not sure why that happened. So I took the stuffing out, patted the dough with some paper towels to absorb the extra moisture from the stuffing and then proceeded to braid the bread.
To braid the bread, place the three dough ropes side by side and pinch the top of the three ropes together. Now, start braiding the bread just as you would braid hair or rope until you reach all the way to the bottom of the strands. In the end, knot the three ropes together and tuck them under so that you have a neat braid.
Cover with a wet towel and leave it to rise for 30 - 40 minutes.
Brush some milk on top of the bread and sprinkle the top generously with fresh/dried herbs. I used dried Italian seasoning.
Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes or until the top turns a nice golden brown.
Slice and serve when warm.

Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing this BM

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Khaliat Nahal - Honeycomb buns

Khaliat Nahal, which in Arabic means bees' hive, derives its name from the typical honey comb like pattern in which this bread is baked. It can be made either sweet or savory. I have made the sweet version with its traditional cream cheese filling, and coated it with sugar syrup after baking.
This recipe makes 17/18 smallish buns. The buns are baked close together in a round pan, giving it its characteristic honey comb shape. The recipe is one I'd bookmarked when I was part of the We Knead to Bake group and thanks to Blogging Marathon #64 where I'll be posting three different shaped yeasted breads this week, it is finally moving out of my bookmarks folder and seeing the light of day.

Khaliat Nahal - Honeycomb buns
What you need:
All purpose flour - 2.5 cups
Sugar - 3 tbsp.
Salt - 1/4 tsp
Instant yeast - 1.5 tsp
Melted butter - 3 tbsp.
Lukewarm milk - 1 cup
Cream cheese - for filling
Some milk for brushing on top of the buns

For the sugar syrup:
Sugar - 3/4 cup
Water - 1/2 cup
Lemon juice - 1 tsp

Mix the melted butter, flour, sugar, salt and yeast using your finger tips. Add the milk, a little at a time and knead until your dough is smooth, pliable and elastic. You may not have to add all the milk.
Coat with a little oil on all sides, cover and leave aside in a warm place to rise. It should double in size in about an hour.
While the dough is rising, you can make your sugar syrup. To do this, bring the sugar and water to a boil and then let the mixture simmer on low heat for a few minutes until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Keep aside to cool until needed.
Once the dough rises, divide it into two parts. Roll each part into a rope that is roughly 9 inches long. Cut each rope into nine parts, so that you have eighteen parts in all. Flatten each part of dough a little, place a little of the cream cheese inside and close the seams and smoothen the dough into a round ball. Place the balls of dough in a well greased 9 inch round pan, arranging them in concentric circles, filling the base of the pan. Cover with a wet paper towel and let it rise for about an hour. Brush the tops with milk.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes or until the tops are well browned.
Remove from the oven and while the buns are still hot, pour the sugar syrup on top of them. If you want your bun to be only mildly sweet and not sticky, you could just brush the sugar syrup on top of the buns. Let this sit for a bit so that the sugar syrup sets a little.
Serve warm.

Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing this BM

Friday, May 13, 2016

Kovakka pickle

Pickles, especially of the instant kind, are a must have in my home. Whether to spice up a breakfast or to pair with curd rice while winding down for the day, nothing beats the comfort of a good home made pickle. This kovakka/tendli/ivy gourd pickle is quick and easy to make and scores high on the taste factor too.

What you need :

Kovakka/tendli/ivy gourd - 25-30 (use firm green ones. Do not use ripe ones)
Juice of half a lemon

Dry masala :
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp, heaped
Pickle masala powder - 1 tsp heaped
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - 2 tsp
Fenugreek powder - 1/2 tsp
Mustard powder - 2 tsp
Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp

For tempering:
Gingely oil - 5 tbsp.
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Broken red chilli - 1
Cumin - 1/2 tsp

Wash and dry kovakka using a paper towel. Cut each gourd into half vertically and then cut each half into three thin strips, making six strips out of each gourd.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a kadai and on a low flame, fry the kovakka for about five minutes until it is just slightly done. Do not cover the kadai while frying, as we don't want the kovakka to be cooked through. It should still retain its crunch. Switch off the flame and let it cool to room temperature.

Mix all the ingredients listed under the dry masala in a separate vessel. Add this to the cooled kovakka and mix well.

Heat oil for tempering. Add mustard seeds, red chilli, and cumin. When the mustard seeds pop, sprinkle some asafoetida in the oil, switch off the heat and add the masala coated kovakka. Mix well. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into this and mix well.
Let it cool completely. Store in an air tight bottle.

This is my second post for Blogging Marathon #64 under the theme Pickles & Preserves. The recipe is from here.
Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing this BM#64

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Plum jam

Making jam at home is not a difficult task. It is something for when you have lots of time on hand, though. You cannot hurry through it and there are no short cuts you can take. If you want your jam/preserve to last for a long time, then you must painstakingly follow the procedure and let it take its own time. This plum jam was made when plums were in season and this is my first entry for Blogging Marathon #64 under the theme Pickles & Preserves.

What you need :
Plum - 8 large, pitted and chopped (approx 4 cups)
Sugar - 1 cup, heaped
Time and Patience - immeasurably large amounts

In a large sauce pan, combine the chopped plums and sugar. Stir with a spoon and set aside for at least an hour. This helps the sugar to dissolve and the plum to release its juices.
Now bring the plum sugar mixture to a boil and then simmer on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let it come to room temperature. Repeat this step a total of four times, mashing the plums with the back of your spoon each time to get a chunky texture. If you don't want chunks in your final product, you could blitz it with a hand blender or blend it in your blender for a smoother texture. After simmering the mixture the fourth time, pour it into a sterilized, still hot glass jar, seal and allow to come to room temperature. This can be stored at room temperature until it is opened. Once opened, store in the refrigerator.

How to sterilize your glass jam jar :
Stand the glass jar upright in a large container of water. There must be enough water to cover the jar completely and then some. Bring the water to a boil and continue boiling for 15 minutes. Switch off heat and put the lid of the jar and the tongs you will be using into the water. Let it stay immersed for 10 minutes. Remove everything onto a clean paper towel and let stand for 1 minute. Pour the jam into the bottle while the bottle is still hot to avoid cracking.

Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing this BM#64

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Random thoughts - whose job is cooking anyway?

Recently, I've noticed this trend in media where the onus of what was once thought of as a woman's domain is now being shifted on to men. Specifically, there is this ad that seems to have become very popular, acquiring several 'likes' from men and women alike, where a father asks the groom's family whether he knows how to cook and on him answering in the negative,  how they expect his daughter to survive on noodles alone. The ad ends happily with the 'boy' asking the girl's family to come and visit him in ten days, in which time, he hopes to learn how to cook something good enough for the girl.
While I am as much of  a believer in equal rights for women as the most ardent of feminists, this advertisement struck me as wrong on so many counts. First off, cooking is a life skill - and both men and women should know enough of it to be able to survive on their own. Secondly, shifting the responsibility of cooking from one gender to another doesn't solve the problem of gender bias. It only changes the angle of bias. Similarly, whether you do 'ladki dekhna'(bride seeing) or 'ladka dekhna'(groom seeing - which in practice, never happens), the process is nothing but regressive at its best.
 In an ideal world, men and women (not boys and girls) would find their own partners when they are ready to, and cooking would be something that whoever enjoys it on a particular day does. It wouldn't be any one partner's duty to ensure that hot food is served at the table at pre-fixed times.
Sigh!!! If only ideals matched reality!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Kaima idli - Deep fried idli coated in a spicy veggie masala

Kaima idli, chilli idli, fried idli, idli chilli - the monikers are numerous, but what they all refer to is this delectable dish that is made by first deep frying idli pieces and then, if you can resist the temptation of polishing off the plate of fried idli,  coating them with a spicy mix of vegetables.
I first tasted this dish at Saravana Bhavan in Chennai and believe me, it was nothing short of an explosion of flavors on the tongue. Since then, I have eaten this innumerable times at different restaurants and loved all the variations that the chefs with their individuality have brought to the dish. Here is my take on this dish. I have created a collage of the various steps involved in the preparation of this dish so that it can be recreated with ease by anyone who wishes to try it out.

What you need :

Idli - 8, diced
Onion - 1/2 of a large one, sliced thin and long
Green chilli - 2
Carrot - 1/2, grated
Capsicum - 1/2, chopped fine
Ginger - a small piece, julienned
Garlic - 3 cloves, chopped fine
Tomato - 1, chopped
Oil - 3 tbsp.
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Urad dal - 1/2 tsp
Chana dal - 1/2 tsp
Oil - for deep frying
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp (adjust to taste)

Dice the idli into pieces. It helps if you refrigerate the idli for at least an hour. Deep fry the cut pieces in hot oil until brown and crisp. Drain off excess oil an set aside.
Heat 3 tbsp. of oil in a pan. Add mustard, urad dal and chana dal. You can also throw in some curry leaves at this point. I skipped that as I didn't have any on hand. When the mustard seeds pop, add the chopped green chilli, ginger and garlic and saute. Lower the heat and add in the sliced onions. Saute until the onions turn pink. Add the grated carrot and capsicum. Stir well and cook covered for a few minutes until the capsicum starts to soften. Add in the chopped tomato, red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt. Stir well and cook covered until tomatoes turn mushy. Add 1/4 cup of water and let it boil for a minute or two or until most of the water has evaporated. Now add in the fried idli pieces and mix to coat well with the vegetable masala. Remove from heat and garnish with some freshly chopped coriander leaves.
Serve hot immediately or after a while - the only difference will be that if served immediately the idli pieces will retain their crunch, while if eaten later they will be slightly softened by the moisture from the masala. Either way, it will be a treat for your taste buds.